Self-tapes have gained tremendous momentum in the last few years, and with the coronavirus pandemic shifting workloads online, they’re bound to become the norm, at least for the time being.

While many actors have dedicated themselves to mastering the various aspects of the digital format—purchasing equipment, learning the technical know-how, and setting up a designated space in their homes—others have felt overwhelmed with the task and resisted the medium altogether. But now is the time to work through those kinks and use technology to advance your career. 

Ultimately, self-tapes are really about you and your skillset. And all that technology mumbo jumbo is just a means to showcase your personality and talent. With that in mind, here are tips from various industry professionals addressing what they look for while watching self-tapes. 

Talent and Fit

Acting coach Richard Warner says within the first 15 seconds of viewing a tape, casting professionals assess if the actor has talent. And the next determination they make is if the performer is a good fit for the role. To maximize the first 15 seconds, Warner says, “It should be a real close-up on you.” He insists, the self-tape should be less about the material or storyline and more about the actor. “It’s about your vocal quality, your charisma, who you are,” he says.

Dodge the distractions

Arvold Casting associate Michael Duni discusses ways for actors to make their self-tapes stand out. “First of all, we need to hear and see you clearly—that is crucial,” he says. “If half your face is in shadow and I can see your Beatles poster in the background and you’re wearing a Christmas sweater, and you sound like a ‘20’s radio, then it’s going to be a hard thing for me to say, ‘I can show this to my casting director, much less the director or the executive producers.” Also, in his company, they prefer that slates occur at the end of the tape rather than at the beginning. “I want to see you as an actor before I get a sense of you as a person. I want to see your interpretation right away,” Duni says.

Do as many takes as you need to get it right

Shasta Lutz, one of Canada’s top casting directors, encourages actors to take advantage of the format and do all the takes necessary to nail the performance. “What we’re looking for is people who are going to take their own chances, they’re going to make one choice, and they’re going to be off-book,” she says. “If you screw up, just do it again … I’m expecting to see a great performance.”

But don’t go overboard

To capture a compelling performance, personal branding coach Kat Elizabeth cautions actors to avoid shooting too many takes.“Try not to shoot too many takes, which obviously can happen if you haven’t learned your lines properly, and you’re not confident. You can really get stale very quickly,” she warns. Elizabeth is also an actress, and she understands all too well that more doesn’t necessarily mean better“Don’t think that repeating it 30 times until it’s perfect is the answer because it’s acting; there’s no such thing as perfection. It’s just about being fresh and real and in the moment,” she wisely advises.

Commit

Casting director Erica Arvold urges actors to focus on their craft and commit to their creative decisions. “I’ve found when hiring off of the tape, if someone makes the ‘wrong’ choice but they made a really strong choice, and you can tell they’re a fabulous actor, they will still get the part over someone who makes the ‘right’ choice but maybe is a little looser or maybe it doesn’t really feel like they’re that committed,” she says. The director is more likely to select an actor who he or she believes can be directed on set.

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